Marci Oberst sat down at her computer Tuesday and embarked on what’s become a daily ritual – trying to log onto the Maryland Department of Labor’s website so she can extend her unemployment insurance.
At 9:30 AM, she was number 88,000 in line, according to the state’s labor website.
“You call the Department of Labor (and) it’s either busy or gives you a recording and just hangs up on you,” says Oberst who is trying to apply for the extra 13 weeks of benefits that are part of the $2.2 trillion federal emergency stimulus package. “There’s no way to get help, to get through the system.”
It’s a common complaint.
State unemployment systems have been crushed under the weight of a record-breaking 30 million Americans who filed claims in six weeks as businesses crippled by the coronavirus pandemic laid off and furloughed workers. Thursday’s new claims report added 3.8 million to the tally.
But the federal relief act that has made unemployment assistance available to people who previously wouldn’t have been eligible has made a stressful process even more complicated.
A worker who may have had two jobs, but lost one, or who was laid off shortly after being hired, are among the many who have questions about whether they qualify for aid. They struggle to find a state employee to answer their questions. And some state workers appear to be confused, applicants say, giving conflicting answers as they try to get up to speed on a raft of new rules.